A Redlight Woman Who Knows How to Sing the Blues by Mary Sisney

A Redlight Woman Who Knows How to Sing the Blues

My Life in White Institutions

KIRKUS REVIEW

Retired English professor Sisney’s (Growth Through Fiction: Short Stories for the Basic Reader, 2008) improbably comic memoir about a black woman’s career in white-dominated academia.

Born into a working-class African-American community in Kentucky during the waning Jim Crow years, Sisney traversed a veritable cultural minefield to get her doctorate and a tenured professorship. In five decades at “white institutions,” including 30 years at California Polytechnic State University, Sisney faced formidable sexism and racism. The author blends seriousness and humor when documenting life as a double-minority professor in the 1970s, ’80 and ’90s. She gives fellow professors entertaining pseudonyms such as Superfly, a white male professor who worked overtime to convey his coolness via “some kind of jive talking, black hip language.” She occasionally switched to black vernacular to “fix his old white ass,” a typical example of the author’s wry way of coping with insufferable colleagues. Sisney critiques culture and politics with similar hilarity, describing, for instance, her desire to administer a “No Fool Left Behind” test to former President George W. Bush to assess his literary aptitude. Even plentiful parentheses, a couple of long-running chapters and overly detailed accounts of academic committee meetings fail to dampen the farcical spirit that animates the book. Beneath all this humor, however, is an unflinching account of the serious discriminatory practices that fester in the supposedly enlightened ivory tower. Although primarily about her career, the narrative also touches on Sisney’s personal life, with particularly poignant reflections on her fraught relationship with her mother. The book brims with pop-culture references and, at times, peculiar and funny meditations on topics ranging from contemporary American sexuality to O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.

With allusions to the black literary canon and chapter titles drawn from African-American music, Sisney’s tragicomic memoir speaks to a diverse audience.

Pub Date: May 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1482707250
Page count: 510pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013




BEST TRUE STORIES FROM INDIE BOOKS OF 2013:

Indie KEEP FOREVER by Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko
by Aleksandr Konstantinovich Sokolenko
Indie LOVING ANDREW by Romy Wyllie
by Romy Wyllie
Indie ME AND MURDER, SHE WROTE by Peter S. Fischer
by Peter S. Fischer

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionSTRAIGHT MAN by Richard Russo
by Richard Russo
FictionINVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
by Ralph Ellison
NonfictionDREAMS FROM MY FATHER by Barack Obama
by Barack Obama